author - translator - poet - academic
Home is a Three Syllable Word
Anitha Devi Pillai
Torn and tattered migrant children
raised on folklores from forefathers’ land
and local ones too when in schools.
my paternal family’s adopted land
that they once abandoned
when the British forces pulled out
returning to their place of birth once again.
The Singapur wallahs spend years
longing for kin left behind and chicken rice.
Their hearts lie buried here.
Stage whispers of my maternal family
never returning back
mars all of our conversations.
The fossilized Malaya Malayalees
grasp tightly to food and clothes
and whenever possible the language too
of their imagined Home.
God’s own country where my ancestors lived in
ancient grand tharavads.
Their matrilineal ties bind
families across the faraway oceans
to unknown faces and accents.
Their practices that I do not comprehend
I imbibe — no questions.
I seek refuge in the answers.
Often belonging just everywhere
and sometimes really nowhere.
 Singapur wallahs - An informal Indian English term to address a person who is ‘from Singapore’. Interestingly, many of those who returned to Kerala in the 60s and 70s were always referred to as ‘the man/woman from Singapore/Malaya’ for the rest of their lives.
 Malaya Malayalees are natives of Kerala who migrated to what was known then as the Federation of Malaya during the British era. The Federation of Malaya included what is now Malaysia and Singapore.
 Tharavads is a Malayalam word for ancestral homes in Kerala, India, where joint families lived under one roof especially amongst the Nair communities. The Nair community was traditionally a matrilineal society and their descendants often have names that include the name of their tharavads.
This syllabic verse poem was first published in SARE: Southeast Asian Review of English Journal in 2019.